Standing between my house and my brother’s, there was a mountain. Monstrous, imperial, it climbed so far up into the sky that it must have been one of the last places you could still spring to the moon from. Back when the moon was closer. Back when we used to skip across the distance likes kids across the creek.
On Tuesdays, I biked to my brother’s house, right over the mountain. The trail, in a foolish attempt to connect point A and point B with a straight line, folded over the top of it.
Picking up speed was the only option. I’d dip beneath the overpass, hands clear of the brakes, riding like hell. My feet cranked against the pedals, my body floated above the seat and my chin jutted forward urging me onwards.
No speed was ever enough. My legs inevitably began to burn beneath the strain of my furious peddling. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, even then, but I didn’t care. One by one I let the gears slip down, easing the pressure against my legs but making each revolution less and less significant. When there was no lower gear to ease down to, I had to get off the bike and walk it. This is how I always saw the summit.
I moved away from that town when I was ten. The final score: Mountain 117, Crystal 0.
Years later, I drifted back into town again and decided that I should tackle the mountain; beat it once and for all. So I borrowed a bike and struck out along the path, towards the house that used to be my brother’s. I didn’t need a map.
I cascaded into the underpass, peddling like a maniac, ready for the fight. My legs raced under the adrenaline surge. I held my breath. Zipping along, I crested up and over the mountain at a coast. It wasn’t even a hill; it was barely a bump in the road.
I didn’t take that as a win.
The past is like that. It gets too big rattling around inside your mind and then you catch up with it and it’s not what you remembered. Not at all.
I was eight the last time I was in Mongolia. I can recall looking out into the infinity of the country that swept away in all directions and it seemed as big as looking up through the Mongolian night. I saw the edge of the universe from this country, lying backwards on a horse. It made my heart stop.
The most surprising thing about Mongolia, the second time around, was that I had been right all along. It really did stretch out forever. You could lay the Earth down map-flat on the plateau and you’d wind up with room around the edges.